Passion for spuds keeps grower in business

By Pam Lewison

For some farmers, growing potatoes is a passion for growing and connecting with consumers.

Reagan Grabner of CSS Farms is one such farmer. His family is one of more than 300 families that make up Washington State potato farmers.

“I was raised on a wheat farm and had the opportunity to work for a potato processor,” he said. “I really fell in love with the idea of ​​cultivating a product that was more than a commodity, something that had high standards and a story that my customers cared about.”

CSS Farms produces potatoes for chips and fries, and baby potatoes for the fresh markets just outside of Pasco. For Grabner, of all the potato varieties produced by the farm, his favorite way to incorporate potatoes into a meal is the easiest.

“That’s probably not the right answer, but I love roasted, simply prepared baby potatoes,” he said.

A team of 25 full-time employees and an additional 25 seasonal employees help Grabner grow his potatoes during the busy harvest season. For him, working alongside great people brings a lot of satisfaction.

“Completing really tough goals as a team is the best part of farming,” he said.

Among these difficult goals are those achieved by the plants themselves during the early parts of the growing season.

“It’s the best job in the world because I see little miracles in life every day,” Grabner said. “When potato plants first crack in the ground, it’s the most amazing thing anyone can see.”

He called farming hard work with intangible rewards.

But it’s not just the intangible rewards that make farming so important to Grabner. As a father of four boys and a wife he calls “a saint,” Grabner calls his work important for other reasons as well.

“I can be the steward of an incredible earth resource and help provide livelihoods for many great families,” he said.

The resources he cares about and the people he works with are hallmarks of Grabner’s discussions on his farm. He attributes the existence of the farm to the river.

“This farm only exists because of the water from the Snake River,” Grabner said. “It is his source of water. Without it, we would grow dryland wheat every two years. If there was a change that prevented access to this water, the farm would cease to exist.

Opponents in the state and people trying to direct agricultural policy without any direct knowledge of agriculture are one of Grabner’s business concerns.

“People who don’t fully understand what we do telling us we should do it differently is frustrating and one of the many challenges we face, including weather, labor shortages and other risks,” he said.

Grabner extends an invitation to any interested legislator to see how involved he is in growing and harvesting crops.

“We have started our growing season and will start our potato harvest at the end of July. We would be happy to show any interested legislators around the farm and teach them about potato growing. I hope they don’t mind getting up early,” he said.

Learn more about Washington State’s potato heritage at potatos.com.

Pam Lewison is the director of the Washington Policy Center’s Agriculture Initiative, which is based in the Tri-Cities.